Low calcium level in the body is usually known as hypocalcaemia. It is always detected in blood and the normal value for the adult usually ranges from 4.4 – 5.4 mEq but this value can have a slight variation from one place to another depending on the kind of reagents used for detection.
Calcium is an essential mineral component in the body and is found especially in bony tissues of our body system. Apart from the development and strength of skeleton tissues, calcium plays an important role in normal muscle and nerve function.
The parathyroid hormone is one of the key regulators of calcium levels in the body and this is why it is usually checked once there is an alarm for calcium imbalance in the body.
It should be understood that low levels of calcium in blood is usually measured with blood albumin as well. This is because calcium ions are always bound to an albumin molecule and a decrease in one should give a consideration to monitor the other.
People with hypocalcaemia will usually present with varying complaints or symptoms depending on the cause of calcium deficiency.
Majority of individuals in our society with hypocalcaemia usually present with severe generalised body weakness associated with a poor neuro-muscular function. This is because the nerves and muscles are largely affected in conditions of hypocalcaemia.
Calcium plays an important role in muscle and nerve function and once its levels go down means there is impairment in function of muscles and nerves.
Headaches, loss of appetite among others are some of the accompanied problems. If calcium deficiency is not corrected early enough could lead to chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, attention deficit disorders, bone and joint deformities especially in young people, marked slow growth during childhood, problems during pregnancy to women, nose bleeding of unknown cause and seen with poor tooth development in children.
Hypocalcaemia can be caused by a number of reasons. Deficiency in vitamin D is always associated with decreased calcium absorption. This is because vitamin D plays a vital role in calcium absorption within the body. Therefore deficiency of vitamin D results in hypocalcaemia.
People with chronic renal failure tend to suffer from calcium deficiency because kidneys are key regulators of calcium levels in blood.
Magnesium deficiency leads to calcium deficiency as well since calcium cannot be absorbed when the levels of magnesium are low. This is why people with low calcium blood levels are advised to eat fruits like lemons, grapefruit, apples, nuts, and legumes. These fruits are rich in calcium but are good sources of magnesium as well.
Osteoporosis is a chronic bone disease seen in some post-menopause women. This is associated with calcium deficiency.
Some people tend to feed on low calcium rich foods like milk and cheese. These people have problems with reduced body’s ability to absorb calcium from food nutrients. Partly, this is why people from nomadic areas who depend largely on animal products tend to have weaker bones.
Some medications such as aspirin, cancer drugs among many others have been found to suppress calcium levels in the body.
Many diseases of primary bone origin are associated with hypocalcaemia. Cancer diseases that metastasize to the bones also cause hypocalcaemia. One of the most common signs of bone metastasis checked in blood is hypocalcaemia.
In order to maintain good levels of calcium; you need to avoid substances that reduce the calcium levels in the body. People should avoid calcium-depleting substances like cigarette smoke and some carbonated soft drinks.
To increase calcium absorption in the body, you need to engage in regular body exercise. Light exercises are very good depending on the body requirements but increased exercises helps to strengthen bones.
Your bones will get more benefit from calcium if you exercise regularly. Begin your exercise program cautiously, especially if you have not exercised for some time. Any exercise is good, but weight-bearing exercise is best for strengthening bones.
The writer is a resident oncologist based in Jerusalem